If 2019 taught us nothing else, we learned that in addition to continuous updates that shape the way search results are ranked, Google is willing to test many changes to Google My Business (GMB). This is critical since Google continues to rely heavily on GMB content for ranking signals.
We’ve scoured the list of tests and updates from Search Engine Land to provide a summary that highlights the changes with the most impact on business owners. And, what would a new year (and a new decade) be without an exploration of anticipated changes in local ranking factors and industry predictions?
2019 Year in Review
January: Message This Business – Google tested a prominent “Message This Business” button in the local panel to emphasize messaging in the Google My Business profile. Google later ended SMS-based messaging support, requiring business owners to download the GMB app to use this functionality.
Source: Local SEO and Search Engine Land columnist Joy Hawkins
February: Local Spam Reporting – Google launched the Business Redressal Complaint Form to report fraudulent activity for Google Local, Maps and Google My Business. This complaint form can be used to report suspected spam for business names, phone numbers and business URLs. Currently, this form cannot be used to report fake reviews.
March: GMB Removes Addresses for Service Area Businesses – For service area businesses, Google removed the full address from the Knowledge Panel in search and the information section of the GMB profile.
April: Google My Business Paid Services Survey – Currently, Google My Business is a free platform provided by Google to encourage accurate information displayed on Google listings. In April, some local businesses received a survey to ask which tools in the GMB platform they used the most and if they would be willing to pay a monthly subscription fee for them. Some of the package options included verified reviews, instant quotes and business profile videos.
June: Google My Business Introduces Branding Tools – In June, Google announced new branding and promotional tools that included a number of GMB features designed to encourage local businesses to claim their profiles. Google also launched a new marketing kit site that allows users to create promotional assets such as stickers, posters and social posts.
August: Bulk Review Management – In August, Google announced the ability for businesses to view, reply to and flag reviews for multiple listings simultaneously within the “Manage Reviews” section of Google My Business. This feature is available for location groups with 500 or fewer locations and is not available for organization accounts.
December: Request Quotes on Mobile – In December, GMB product expert, Tom Waddington discovered that Google was testing a new “Request Quotes” button on mobile. This button is available to businesses currently using the Local Services Ads program, which requires them to be Google Guaranteed. To receive the guarantee, a business must undergo various levels of screening including business owner background checks, license checks and business insurance checks.
Source: Tom Waddington
Local Ranking Factors in 2019
In a study conducted by Local SEO Guide in conjunction with Places Scout and statistical consultant Megan Smith at the University of California, Irvine, 200,000 local businesses were researched to determine similarities in Google’s ranking in 2019. Overall, it was found that there weren’t many major changes in ranking factors. Having prominent reviews and linking profiles with adequate geographic and category keywords are still the most important aspect of ranking in local search results.
According to this study, some of the categorical variables that correlate to high local rankings are:
- having a physical address in the city being searched
- including a profile photo
- having keywords that are within primary GMB listings categories
What Can We Expect in 2020?
BrightLocal reached out to industry experts to get their predictions on what 2020 holds for Local Search. The main predictions were:
- Social Network – Although Google+ will most likely not be making a comeback, there are some speculations that some kind of social network may evolve to help increase user-generated content (photos, reviews, etc.). With user-generated content impacting a local business’ visibility and rankings (from reviews to suggested updates and beyond), active listening and the ability to respond quickly is going to drive greater visibility and more engagement.
- Spam – Some industry experts think 2020 is the year that Google is going to catch more spam than ever in local listings and reviews.
- Pay to Play and Ads – Many predictions suggest Local SEO will be moving more towards paid offerings, while others predict that Google Ads will continue to encroach on the Local SEO space, perhaps to the point where paid ads are the majority of the first page.
As we enter 2020, we can expect Google to test and update more tools in the Google My Business platform and across Google in general. As Google introduces new tools, it is important for business owners to stay abreast of the changes, keeping in mind that Google’s changes are usually relevant to helping local businesses increase visibility in search results. Be sure to subscribe to our industry updates for more information about upcoming changes within Google and how they will impact your business.